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Hitchhiking’s Time Has Come Again (nytimes.com)
63 points by georgecmu on Nov 11, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments



I worked in Cuba for a while. They have a well established system of ride-sharing.

It's generally for profit. In Havana, old American cars* (maquinas) run along established routes, with fixed fares. You can travel the city for 50 cents to a dollar, roughly.

Between cities, it's easy to find drivers who will take passengers, and hitchhiking (for money) is a very common and fluid system.

It's well in advance of our carpooling system in many ways, and all without smartphones.

I don't think it would work without smartphones here, but there's space in the market for an Airbnb of ridesharing. The underlying idea is monetization of spare private capacity.

Edit: I should add that the system is very, very safe. But Cuba is also very, very safe, so it's hard to draw conclusions.

*The American cars have replacement motors. Soviet and eastern european generally don't act as public taxis. Likely due to space, the America cars can fit 6-8 passengers.


i pathologically pick up hitchhikers, and i agree that it's unlikely to be dangerous. not once have i felt like i was in an unsafe situation, though i am a decent sized guy. but there is a lot of "color" out there - old guys pressing me to get a hotel room with them and get it on, or people with bad drugs and/or tenuous grips on reality. my best experiences have always been around winter resorts - in my experience people hitching i70 in CO or tahoe in CA are almost always chill and pretty local. i'm still happy to do it, but i wouldn't really regard it as ready for prime time as the author.

for what it's worth the ride sharing apps, while interesting, don't seem ready to take the place of hitching in my mind. hitching serves a [casual||down market] segment that smart phone apps aren't ready to conquer (yet?).


> i pathologically pick up hitchhikers

In the early 90's in Homer, Alaska, this was just normal behavior.

> but there is a lot of "color" out there

Also true for Homer. However, at no time did I ever feel unsafe. (From picking up hitchhikers.)


Also normal behavior in Hawaii.


>for what it's worth the ride sharing apps, while interesting, don't seem ready to take the place of hitching in my mind. hitching serves a [casual||down market] segment that smart phone apps aren't ready to conquer (yet?).

I agree, these apps aren't ready to take off in many places yet. It's a matter of time for the requisite infrastructure to be in place (smartphone penetration, cheap ubiquitous data, and more societal comfort around collaborative consumption)

The old guys wanting to get it on with you is a pretty funny coincidence. I've had a lot of ultra-left hippie types that live what you can describe as a nomadic lifestyle. "Color" is definitely the best way to put it. Inspiring though!


I used to. I do it much less now; for whatever reason, the folks I pass these days always seem to be effectively hobos. Unfortunately, the last time I gave a ride to a hobo-esque hitchhiker, I was on an hour-long drive, and my car essentially reeked for the next few days.

It seems kind of shallow, but I don't give nearly as many hitchhikers rides today.


In my early 20s, I had an awful experience hitch hiking. I'll never do it again because I seriously thought I would not live to see the next day.

During that time, I knew quite a few people who hitch-hiked long distances. Every single one of them had experiences where they thought they were going to die or sensed they were is serious danger. Don't get me wrong, 90% of the experience is positive and interesting, but that 1 / 10 ride you get will scare you straight.

The numbers may suggest that hitch hiking is safe, but the numbers don't, and cannot, tell the stories of those that had good reason to be traumatized by a bad experience. As an experiment, try hitch hiking across one entire state. I would gladly offer my $10 to your $7 that you wouldn't want to do it again.

EDIT to add: I hitch hiked in Florida.


This article is asinine. Hitch hiking never went away. Maybe it's been less visible for the class of people who can get Op-Eds published in the New York Times, but it's gone on as normal long past the time of its "murder" given in this article.

It's a commonly-repeated myth that hitching is illegal in the U.S. Most states simply have laws making it illegal to stand on the "travelled portion of a public way", which is a stupid way to hitch anyway. See http://hitchwiki.org/en/United_States_of_America for details.

See http://hitchwiki.org for tips if you want to get in on the fun.


As someone who has been [arrested | note: it's complicated. None of my 'offenses' were ultimately criminal, and I have no record.] for hitchhiking multiple times (and hitchhiked over tens of thousands of miles before turning 20)– nobody cares. Argue all you want, but unless you're grossly mistreated (and that's by their definition, not yours) in custody, I doubt even the most local branch of the ACLU will give a damn about your claim. Do I think it's stupid? Of course. But it still doesn't fly everywhere, and wherever you go you have to be able to figure out the turf if you don't want a hefty fine or a night of 'lodging' or more. Obviously, it gets much worse if you're a minor– and good luck convincing anyone if you're emancipated.


For me, hitchhiking (in Ireland) stopped overnight in 1997. One day it was there, and the next it was gone. Hell, I used to hitch home from the nightclub at 3am.


Downvoted. I can't tolerate comments like this on HN.

Your comment has been ruined by the first paragraph.


Casual carpooling is the quite common in some areas. The one I'm most familiar with is between northern Virginia and DC. There are "slug" [0] lines scattered around, commonly at commuter parking lots. I-395 has HOV-3 lanes on it, and it can cut a commute from around between an hour to an hour and a half to around thirty minutes. Passengers line up, and as a driver pulls up, he tells the person in the front of the line where he's going and how many he needs. The message is passed down the line (typically by the head of line yelling it out), and passengers step out of line and get a free ride in.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slugging


I'm worried that the article presents the statistic:

"in 1974 that hitchhiking was a factor in 0.63 percent of crimes [in California]"

and brushes this off like it was nothing. This seems like a disturbingly high percentage to me (although we don't know what percentage of people hitchhiked).

If you consider that good risk management often involves avoiding 1 in a thousand chances, sometimes 1 in a million (depending on the cost if it occurs) it seems to me like hitchhiking should still be something you regard as having higher-than-average risks.


I also noticed that, though I'd want to know some more details, mostly what "a factor in" means. If it's a stricter definition, where the hitchhiker or the person picking them up committed a crime with the other party as the victim, that does seem like a quite high percentage. On the other hand, I suspect they might be using a very loose definition of "a factor in", where they're counting any crime committed by a person who hitchhiked at any point close in time to the crime, as having been indirectly facilitated by hitchhiking.


I have successfully hitchhiked in western Europe, mostly France. It can take time to find a ride, but I (young middle class white male, clean shaven) was always picked up by ordinary folks just happy to help out. The trickiest part is finding a spot where people have the time to see you and slow down- in my experience, just before highway tolls is best.


I had basically the same experience. I've done a trip from Riga across north-east Europe down to Italy. Two things stand out in my (short) experience: 1) It was incredible easy to talk with people that did not speak your language. 2) I meet far more women than men. Even alone women and predominantly from North Europe.


> The trickiest part is finding a spot

gas station? truck parking?


Gas station is not great because people generally don't like being approached; they think you're going to ask for money, ostensibly for gasoline. It's also more difficult to target people going the direction you're going.

Truck parking might work if you're looking to get to the opposite coast, but a trucker isn't exactly going to be super amicable about dropping you off in the middle of the metro center of the next city over. He's got a schedule to keep.


I'd be curious in hearing more about why the FBI and law enforcement brought on this fear campaign against it. Hippies "irked" them isn't really an explanation.


Well, I take it tracking people gets significantly harder in rampant hitchhiking, without a car registered to someone's name, or a bus/train ticket in their name (possibly tied to a credit card).


Full details are in Ginger Strand's book, Killer on the Road. J. Edgar Hoover was in fact irked by hippies and the FBI wanted to shut down civil rights activism in the South.


Hitchhiking for me is the exact oposite of technology. It is about connecting with people on a deep level. When I give rides I always hear amazingly unique snip of someone's life story and it inspires me.

When I get rides I realize how compassionate humans are. I have hitched all over the world in cars, motorcycles and a pump trolly (train), my mother even hitched on a turboprop plane once.

I met this guy Rock Eagle who free soloed the Eiffel Tower, an 80yo driving 90mph over a mountain pass to visit his girlfriend, a young woman hitchhiking North and South America alone (and doing just fine), a drunk gangster who told me he wouldn't kill me and parents who gave me the keys to their house and car while they went on vacation.

Big cities are hard, but you take public transportation to the end of a line or bus route and start there.

There are risks associated with any activity, but the most dangerous one is sitting on your ass watching the world through a screen.

Your thumb has been and always will be the most sustainable, renewable, friendly, loving, compassionate, eye-opening form of transportation on this planet.


Completely agree. I did some Hitch-hiking as well (in Canada, France, and Australia) and only have good experiences.

Canada was the best. I got a ride from a native american who smuggled me aboard the ferry he worked on, so I could cross to Prince Edwards Island for free. I got a ride from an older couple and their grandson in a camper, who invited me to stay with them at a campsite (and gave me my first taste of Moosehead lager). And in Newfoundland, apart from plenty of good car rides, interesting conversations, (and being invited for Moose meat dinner, and even overnight stays) I got a 'ride' from one coastal village to the next, from a couple on a tiny boat, that were motoring around Newfoundland.

In France and the Netherlands I did some hitch-hiking as well, both for practical reasons (when there was no bus), and for fun. Was a bit harder there, but on overall it was great. Australia was ok too, though it could be a while before one got a ride...

What I especially liked about it is the enormous diversity of people that one meets, and the life-stories they can tell. From a factory worker on his way home from the night-shift, metal-heads in a minivan heading for a French rock concert, and people racing across states to visit an ill relative, to doctors on holiday in their BMW, and land-lords making their round in a cabrio sports-car.

Thumbs up to hitch-hiking!


I've always been wary of hitchhiking and hitchhikers for that matter but I've taken a few "chances" recently here in Montreal and I've had great results and stories come of it. It really does cut down on the loneliness of long commutes. It's amazing how you still get strange glances from other passing cars when you pull over and let a hitchhiker in, particularly if she's a woman. We really need to get over this...

A company that graduated the FounderFuel accelerator with us, called "Live Rides" (http://liverides.com) has built an awesome app for Canadians to find/offer rides by adding safety through a social layer. If you're Canadian, check it out and give "hitchhiking" a try, it's really a blast no matter what side you're on.


"Cool", I thought, until I checked it out. "Ah, iOS only, too bad", I said to meself.


There are people who use things other than iOS? Color me surprised.

crooked grin


I hitched for nine months in New Zealand, and loved every minute of it. Never felt uncomfortable, had a lot of fantastic conversations.

Full disclosure, a woman was raped and murdered while hitchhiking, only a few km from a town I was staying, while I was there. But I was out hitching the next day, and still had no trouble. I don't know what moral to draw from that.

Still, if hitching comes back to the States, I'll be nothing but pleased.


> I don't know what moral to draw from that.

The same moral you get from living in a region (city, state, country, etc.) where serious crimes happen: Unlikely things occur.

The same reasoning that says the dice (2d6) can come up twelve even though there's only one way for that to happen says you can be killed hitchhiking, or picking up hitchhikers.


many years ago i picked up a few people in my time hitchhiking, and used it once to get back to town when my car broke down. neve had an issue.

one of the guys i gave a lift to suggested that as a man to never pick up a woman hitchhiker. it's too easy for her to claim that you tried to assault her and get your day ruined until it all gets sorted out. (curious if this is true.) he also helped me to learn some techniques to get out of giving someone a ride who, once you pull over, is actually all kinds of messed up.

haven't driven significant distances alone in eons, so i haven't run into this in a long time. interesting piece to appear in the NYT however.


I travelled to Jakarta quite a few times over the past year and was surprised to see literally thousands of people hitching on the main roads of the CBD.

Turns out they are 'Jockeys' that people pay to pick up so they can drive on the major downtown roads that have a 3-person min for each car. It's essentially hitch hiking to go no where.

http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/jakarta/jockeys-and-ojeks-mor...


Strange, the author neglected to mention the 511 ride share program in NYC, which was encouraging carpooling before Sandy.

http://511ny.org/rideshare/


> The one agency to commission a study on the subject, the California Highway Patrol, found in 1974 that hitchhiking was a factor in 0.63 percent of crimes in the state.

Even if crime was a factor in 100% of hitchhiking incidents, this statistic could still be true. So the authors claim that it's "hardly Russian roulette", based on this, is meaningless.

Given the enormity of crime, just because reducing hitchhiking wouldn't reduce crime doesn't mean hitchhiking is not dangerous.


Right, the correct statistic would be what proportion of hitchhiking journeys result in a crime.


Or, if you want to go the other way and show an absurdly wrong (yet factually correct) statistic, you could proclaim that "100% of hitchhiking murders involve hitchhiking!"


I pick up hitchhikers whenever I can. If it's a big inconvenience (a hippie with a huge dog) or if I think something is sketchy, I won't do it. Ive never had any real trouble.


The author neglected to mention that robocars are coming and so hitchhiking will become irrelevant before it's second coming.


I don't really follow developments in the robocar world, but I would have thought the passenger would still be able to tell the car to stop for a hitcher.




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